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Where Have All the Children Gone?

Publication Date: 2008-03-18

They only get one childhood, and we're letting the State steal it.

The political mania for inflicting high-stakes tests on students has reached such insanity that a couple of years ago when a teacher revealed that Harcourt, publisher of the widely used Stanford 9 test, sends out instructions on what a teacher should do when nervous children vomit on the tests (Soiled tests cannot be discarded but must be returned to Harcourt.), it wasn't even a three-day wonder.
No group stepped forward and demanded that schools discontinue practices that make kids vomit.

Instead, a principal in San Diego insists that kindergartners must take pre-Stanford-9 tests, declaring "Unless students become familiar with the exam format, they cannot zero in on the academic skills. Try passing a bar exam without preparation."

Hello. This is kindergarten.

Standardistas call it more intense kindergarten instruction. We should call it what it is: child abuse. We must defy federal and state bullying and return kindergarten to its roots?-a children?s garden. Kindergarten should be joyful. Every day. It should be a song. Every day.

So should first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. And yes, high school, too. We must join together to put a song in their hearts.

We must return childhood to our children, not hand it over to the get-'em-ready machine for the Global Economy, the machine that insists schools must sort kids into winners and losers and serve them up to a vicious marketplace that sings competition as its mantra--and ships jobs overseas because greed rules.

Remember, they only get one childhood.

In Indianapolis, students were required to continue state testing on September 11 and September 12, 2001. Officials reasoned that students should be able to compartmentalize their emotions; children were asked to shove aside the emotions engulfing everyone else in the country and concentrate on doing work required by the state.

In Tennessee a first grade teacher received an official letter of reprimand--for comforting a sobbing child during the high-stakes state test. Now, teachers aren't allowed to talk to children during test time in Tennessee.

Now, the mania for eliminating recess children in Atlanta have no recess. The superintendent of schools insists that they need to know that school is serious business and there's no time to waste hanging from monkey bars.

Now, we surround children with fear. A Manatee County Florida kindergartner asked his mom, "When am I going to have to take the FCAT?" An 8-year-old in Texas comes home sobbing. He's worried that he and his classmates won't do well on the state test and then his teacher will lose her job and her children will starve because she won't have money to buy them food.

Now, homework mania dominates family life. In Virginia, a third grader brought home 45 pages of multiple choice drill sheets. Test prep material. If she gets a parent's signature testifying that she has spent 45 minutes a night on those sheets for the eight days preceding the day of the state test, she gets to attend an ice cream and cake party. Homework pressure causes children around the country to drop ballet and soccer.

Thus, we sacrifice our children to the demands of the state.

When the state threatened to take over Birmingham, Alabama schools if they didn't increase their Stanford-9 test scores, Birmingham officials took the easy way. They got rid of the low scorers. In Birmingham, 522 students were kicked out of school right before the administration of the state test. Some students were given termination papers on their 16th birthday. And when Steve Orel, an adult ed instructor, tried to blow the whistle on this atrocity, he was fired. Four years later, the WOO triumphs, continuing to offer a GED, civil rights, and social justice education to students locked out of local schools. And most important, at the WOO, there is laughter where once there was none.

High stakes, high anxiety testing will only get worse. No one is yet admitting what the massive testing will cost in dollars, never mind the human costs. Push-out numbers escalate as ninth graders held back to improve 10th grade scores see that they aren't going to make it. The outlook is even more grim as kids who've been held back in elementary school leave school as early as seventh grade.

Clearly, the wrong people are taking high-stakes tests. We need to turn the tables and start quizzing the corporate-politico bedfellows who make hay dumping on the schools and terrorizing children.

Let's start by quizzing the members of Congress. We should include members of the Business Roundtable who've been yammering loudly for this testing. And let's include the media pundits who love to sneer about teacher incompetence. Here are a few questions to get things started.

1.What is the correct order to show the complete life cycle of a horsefly?
A. Horsefly
B. Maggot
C. Pupa
D. Eggs

a) D, B, C, A
b) D, C, B, A
c) A, D, C, B
d) C, B, C, A

2. Which of these belong to the kingdom Monera?
a) Ferns
b) Mosses
c) Mushrooms
d) Bacteria

Note: Questions 1 and 2 come from Virginia Standards of Learning Assessments, Spring 2001, 5th grade

3. Samuel Slater is credited with the development of the
a) first textile mill in the United States
b) technology for building the Erie Canal
c) first banking system in the United States
d) use of interchangeable machine parts

4. Which president refused to enforce the Supreme Court ruling in the 1830s that supported the
Cherokee nation's claim to remain on its land?
a) John Quincy Adams
b) Andrew Jackson
c) James Monroe
d) James Buchanan

Note: Questions 3 and 4 come from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, Spring 2002, Grade 8.

5. Which of the following equations represents a line that is parallel to the line 4x ? 2y = 8 and passes through the point (0, -8)?
a) 2x + y = -4 b) 2x ? y = 8
c) x ? 2y = 8 d) x ? 2y = 16

Note:Question 5 comes from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, Mathematics, Grade 10. It is by no means representative of the difficulty of some questions criticized by experts as more difficult than the SAT (but I'm not able to do charts and graphs and symbols with my limited html skills).

Next, the Standardistas can move on to essay questions. The prompts below aren't from any state test but created especially for Standardistas.

7. Describe the effects of calcium deficiency on young women who attend schools who've signed exclusive contracts with soft drink companies.

Note: Colorado Springs will receive $8.4 million over ten years from Coca-Cola. If the district exceeds its "requirement" of selling seventy thousand cases of Coke products a year, it will rake in even more moolah.

8. Describe the relationship between junk food and juvenile diabetes in schools participating in Pizza Hut?s ?Book-It!? program. Include in your answer school districts that plaster their buses with advertisements for Burger King, Wendy?s, and Kellogg?s Pop-Tarts. Also consider a Hershey?s-sponsored curriculum, ?The Chocolate Dream Machine,? which includes across-the-curriculum lessons in math, science, geography, and nutrition.

9. Explain the relationship of free speech to a school?s commercial contracts.

Note: Mike Cameron was suspended from Greenbrier High School in Evans, Georgia, for wearing a Pepsi shirt on "Coke Day." The school was competing in a national "Team Up With Coca-Cola" contest, which awards $10,000 to a high school that comes up with the best plan for distributing Coke discount cards.

10. Explain the relationship between student scores on high stakes tests and the classroom time spent studying lessons in a unit called "The Carbonated Beverage Company," doing lessons about wildlife in Prince William Sound prepared by ExxonMobil, or taking an online tour of the Dole Fresh Vegetables Newest salad-making plant in Soledad, California.

11. Explain how the policy of requiring eight million students to watch Channel One affects a school's commitment to high standards. Include in your answer a discussion of the qualifications of the Channel One curriculum committee for analyzing, synthesizing, and reporting world affairs. Also include their expertise in cognitive development and adolescent psychology. Consider the price tag for allowing other institutions to capture 24% of a 50-minute instructional period every day of the school year: National Rifle Association, Greenpeace, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Planned Parenthood, Daughters of the American Revolution, The Flat Earth Society, The Gay Alliance, vivisectionists, vegetarians, Rotarians, Rosicrucians, Scientologists, the local skinheads.

12. Document how much time you have spent with a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 16-year-old. Make sure the children sign your submission.

Let the CEO and Congressional and scores on these questions be published in newspapers throughout the land. Then the nation will know: Who's smarter: IBM or Wall-Mart? Ford or Chevvy? Coke or Pepsi? ABC or Fox? The Boston Globe or National Enquirer? Republicans or Democrats?

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